Hubris and ignorance

The deeper issue the Newsweek fiasco raises
is hubris and ignorance. Hubris in an attitude that Americans don’t need to
understand and be sensitive to other cultures, especially after 9/11. Ignorance
of those cultures and how they give meaning to the lives of the people who are
shaped by them.

Islam is under
attack in the
name of the
war on terror.
–Mr. Imran Khan

Reaction to the Newsweek article continues. This is what Katharine Q. Seelye and Neil A. Lewis write in the New York Times this morning: “It reflected the severity of consequences that even one sentence in a brief news article can have at a time of intense anti-American sentiment overseas and political polarization, as well as extreme distrust of the mainstream media at home.”

I suppose you
could say we
should have
foreseen the
consequences of
the report, but
we didn’t.
— Mark Whitaker
Newsweek Editor

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz yesterday focused on how the story affects the credibility of mainstream media. “But the story is already showing signs of becoming the latest in a high-profile series of media blunders involving plagiarism, fabrications and questionable documents at such respected news organizations as the New York Times, USA Today and CBS News.”

The story and its consequences will be analyzed from every angle, but it strikes me that, important as the story is, it’s one part of a much larger whole. We in the United States don’t know much about cultures beyond our borders, in fact, we know little of those cultures within the U.S. different from our own. I think it’s a result of a long history of neglect of global education in our schools and even our churches.

That neglect, compounded In public life by the lack of understanding how our policies affect the rest of the world is a double whammy of ignorance and hubris. I’ve heard for as long as I’ve been interested in public policy the claim that nations don’t have friends, they have interests. That is used as a rationale for not providing resources to those nations that have great human need but don’t represent any strategic value to the U.S. When we elevate our own nation’s interests above those of others to the point that it appears they don’t matter, or they are neglected, as is often the case with Africa and South America, we risk hubris. They do matter and their concerns are important, if not for strategic reasons, for humanitarian ones.

We live in an interdependent world. That an editor of an international publication could say his staff didn’t perceive beforehand the impact of a story loaded with such cultural freight at a time when the whole world is critical of U.S. policy, there is skepticism about U.S. media and we’ve been through Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo scandals, can only be understood in this larger context. Hubris and ignorance.

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